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According to research conducted by Jean Williams and Jasna Jovanovic and reported in Sexuality and Culture in 2015, over the past twenty years, non-monogamous relationships have become mainstream. Will these non-traditional relationships, also described as “complicated”, replace monogamous relationships? Michał Pozdał, psychotherapist form SWPS University, explains how relationship-related attitudes change over time.

In the article published in Culture, Health & Sexuality: An International Journal for Research, Intervention and Care, Louis Allen claims that it is difficult for young people to define a relationship. Therefore, they describe their relationships as “complicated”. Research shows that for teenagers and young adults (18-35 years of age) the term “relationship” is ambiguous. It is difficult for them to define “relationship”, because the definition depends on many factors, such as the amount of time they spend with their partner, the emotional investment in the relationship, and the decision whether to open the relationship to other people, including intimate relations. Due to the multifaceted approach to relationships, the boundaries between these various models are blurred and the definitions of the term “relationship” vary. As the result, not only the people in the relationship, but also the society experience difficulties with formulating a clear definition of such union.

From open relationships...

Studies on sexuality of teenagers and young adults (up to 30 years of age) indicate that increasingly, open relationships are deemed acceptable among this demografic group. It is characteristic for the generation the lives in two parallel worlds: the virtual reality and actual reality. Young people experiment and engage in polyamorous open relationships, which they often define as “friends with benefits” rather than couples.

It might seem that the proceeding liberalization of Western Europe and social acceptance of experimentation in relationships would create a good environment for frequent changes of partners. According to researchers, this is not the case. The number of partners that young people have today does not differ much from previous generations. The only difference is their less formal approach to relationships, which is noticeable among the contemporary youth.

...to long-term relationships

Ann Meier and Gina Allen from the University of Minnesota have proved that for young people entering adulthood (up to approx. 30 years of age), informal relationships serve as milestones. This experimentation allows them to learn what it means to be in a relationship. The researchers claim that initially young people engage in short and informal relationships then gradually, the relationships last longer and longer and finally in early adulthood, individuals choose one, long-term partner. It indicates that despite the early phase when people choose non-traditional ways of relationship building, finally they opt for a monogamous model, similarly to previous generations.

So can we expect a significant increase in the number of relationships defined as “it’s complicated”? Yes, if we are talking about teenagers entering adulthood and young adults, who are still in the “searching” phase of life. No, if we refer to adults, who have already passed that phase. According to the authors of “Attached to Monogamy?”, a study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, contrary to appearances, it is not easy for adults to make different life choices, because Western societies, despite their openness to new phenomena and their liberal views, still perceive monogamy as the preferred relationship model.


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About the author

Michał Pozdał, M.A. - psychotherapist. He works with individuals and couples who experience difficulties related to their intimate relationships. For the past few years, he has been providing educational sessions in Strefa Młodzieży [Youth Zone] at SWPS University, a series of lectures and workshops focusing on topics relevant to young people. Every month, he meets with close to a thousand high-school students, parents and teachers across Poland.